Back to Basics: What is Cloud computing?

Unless you have been living in a cave, you will have heard about the emergence of the Cloud over the past decade. Today, many large and small organisations are completely reliant on the Cloud. This become even more evident over the course of the pandemic: cloud-based software has enabled many companies to keep going despite having to close their offices.

But what exactly is the Cloud?

In common usage ‘the Cloud’ is often synonymous with the Internet – it means you are accessing a remotely hosted service. The distinction is that Cloud servers are tightly interwoven. To an extent, they share a common operating system that can find or store things for you, without your needing to know their precise location. In that sense, there are several Clouds – each organised on a common platform such as Azure or AWS and operating as distinct ecosystems. Although distributed over physical servers, each is a virtual environment.

What is cloud computing?

Any form of computing that executes ‘in the Cloud’ rather than on your own local computer. The Cloud facilitates the provision of on-demand computing services. An obvious benefit is therefore a reduced need to install or store things on your own personal devices. Cloud services save you storage space, processor time and maintenance overheads. By using cloud software, you avoid having to license and install applications on every single device that might occasionally need them.

The main cloud services

The Cloud offers three main service models; Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Each offers a variety of advantages, and organisations may opt for just one or utilise all three. The most familiar cloud services – such as Microsoft 365 – come under the category of SaaS.

The different types of cloud

There are also different ways that clouds can be deployed. The “public cloud” hosts services and infrastructure that can be shared by all customers, whereas a “private cloud” restricts access to a single organisation, usually behind a firewall. A “hybrid cloud” combines aspects of both – usually to optimise the balance of scalability and security – and a “community cloud” is a sharing-solution used jointly by organisations that have a lot in common, such as government departments or healthcare institutions.

The main advantages of cloud-based technologies

There are numerous benefits in using cloud-based technologies but the following are some of the main motivations.

Cost savings: Cloud infrastructures free organisations from the high costs of in-house hardware, software licenses, maintenance and upgrade costs. Most cloud services are pay-as-you-go so you only have to pay for what you use. Many organisations are worried about the initial costs of implementing cloud solutions, but the longer-term ROI is extremely attractive.

Flexibility: By moving your infrastructure and routine IT services to the Cloud, you can free up more time for your IT talent to work directly on projects to improve your business. You also acquire flexibilities of scale: for example, if you take on a new contract you can access extra resources almost instantly.

Mobility: Cloud services can be accessed from any device with an internet connection, including smartphones and home laptops. That also means you can access key corporate data whenever and wherever you need it, and staff are always in touch with clients and colleagues.

Improved collaboration: Everyone has access to the same documents and can work on them together. There are many cloud services designed to make collaboration easier (such as Zoom or MS Teams).

Disaster recovery: The Cloud is ideal for automating backup routines and for rapidly restoring your systems if there is any kind of problem.

The most popular cloud solutions

The most popular cloud platforms include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Alibaba Cloud and the IBM Cloud. You can lease the services you need from any of them although there are advantages in building an infrastructure on a single platform. Cloud professional services companies like Cloudworks can help you make sense of different types of cloud technologies if you need extra help with the sometimes complex configuration.

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